The Affirmative Action Debate: Five Issues to Consider

Rethink Your Opinions About Race-Based Preferences

The debate over affirmative action raises two primary questions: Is American society so characterized by bias that race-based preferences are necessary to help people of color succeed? Also, does affirmative action constitute reverse discrimination because it is unfair to whites?

Decades after the introduction of race-based preferences in America, the affirmative action debate continues. Discover the pros and cons of the practice and who benefits from it most in college admissions. Learn the effects  affirmative action bans have had in different states and whether race-based preferences have a future in the United States.

Firefighter Gear
Firefighter Clothing and Gear. Liz West

In the 21st century, the U.S. Supreme Court continues to hear cases about the fairness of affirmative action. The Ricci v. DeStefano case is a prime example. This case involved a group of white firefighters who alleged that the city of New Haven, Conn., discriminated against them when it threw out a test they passed at a 50 percent greater rate than blacks did.

Performance on the test was the basis for promotion. By discarding the test, the city prevented eligible white firefighters from advancing. Did the Ricci v. DeStefano case constitute reverse discrimination?

Learn what the Supreme Court decided and why, with this review of the decision. More »

UC Berkeley
University of California, Berkeley. Charlie Nguyen/Flickr.com

How have affirmative action bans in California, Texas and Florida affected student enrollment in public universities in those states? Whites are typically the racial group who have been the most outspoken against affirmative action, but it's questionable whether bans against race-based preferences have benefited them. In fact, enrollment of white students has declined following affirmative action’s demise.

On the other hand, Asian American enrollment has risen dramatically while black and Latino enrollment has dipped. How can the playing field be leveled? More »

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The End of Affirmative Action: New Legislation Suggests a Future Without It

Ward Connerly
Ward Connerly worked to ban affirmative action in California. Freedom to Marry/Flickr.com

Debates have raged for years about the pros and cons of race-based preferences. But a review of recent laws and Supreme Court decisions suggests a future without affirmative action.

Several states, including liberal ones such as California, have passed laws that outlaw affirmative action in any government entity, and it's unclear whether the actions they have taken since then effectively address the inequities that disproportionately affect white women, women of color, men of color and people with disabilities.

University of Missouri
University of Missouri. Nonorganical/Flickr.com

Are the ethnic groups who need affirmative action the most reaping its benefits in college admissions? A look at how affirmative action plays out among Asian American and African American students suggests maybe not.

Asian Americans are over-represented in colleges and universities, while African Americans are underrepresented. These communities are not homogeneous, however. While Asian Americans of Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Indian descent tend to come from socioeconomically privileged backgrounds, large numbers of Pacific Islander students and those with origins in Southeast Asia--Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos--come from underprivileged families.

Do colleges overlook these vulnerable Asian Americans when considering race during the admissions process? Moreover, do college admission officers take note of the fact that many of the blacks at elite college campuses aren't the descendants of slaves, but first- and-second generation immigrants from Africa and Caribbean?

These students may belong to the same race that blacks with slave ancestors do, but their struggles are markedly different. Accordingly, some have argued that colleges need to use affirmative action as a tool to get more "native" blacks into college rather than their more privileged immigrant counterparts. More »

Bayard Rustin
Civil rights activist Bayard Rustin served as an advisor to Martin Luther King and influenced the passage of affirmative action laws. Flickr.com

Today affirmative action is talked about so much that it seems like the practice has always been around. Actually, race-based preferences arose after hard-fought battles waged by civil rights leaders and acted upon by U.S. presidents. Learn which events were the most noteworthy in affirmative action’s history. Then decide for yourself whether affirmative action is necessary.

Since the social inequities that created an uneven playing field for women, people of color and people with disabilities continue to be problems today, supporters of affirmative action say the practice is sorely needed in the 21st century. Do you agree? More »